Introducing Curonian Spit National Park

This magical pigtail of land dangling off the western rump of Lithuania hosts some of the worlds’ most precious sand dunes and a menagerie of elk, deer and avian wildlife. The fragile spit, which Unesco recognised as a World Heritage site in 2000, is divided roughly evenly between Lithuania and Russia’s Kaliningrad region in the south.

Lithuania’s share of the spit is protected as the Curonian Spit National Park (, which has two visitor centres Smiltynė (46-402 257; Smiltynės plentas 11; 8am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat, 9am-2pm Sun Jun-Aug, closed Sat & Sun Sep-May); Nida (51256; Naglių gatvė 8; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, 9am-2pm Sun May-Sep) with abundant information on walking, cycling, boating and lazing activities.

Smiltynė, where the ferries from Klaipėda dock, is administratively part of Klaipėda and is jammed on summer weekends with city slickers flocking to its beaches. You’re better off heading south to laid-back Nida, where you’ll find some fine guesthouses and several brilliant hikes with great views of the dunes. Ask at the Tourist Information Centre (52345; Taikos gatvė 4;; 9am-8pm Mon-Sat, 9am-3pm Sun Jun-Aug, 10am-6pm Mon-Fri Sep-May) in Nida for details. When observing the rapidly eroding dunes, it is vital to stick to the marked paths.

An excellent way to see the spit is on a bicycle. A flat cycling trail runs all the way from Nida to Smiltynė, and you stand a good chance of seeing elk or other wildlife at any point along that path. Keep an eye out for one of Neringa’s can’t-miss attractions, a massive colony of grey herons and cormorants, about 1km south of Juodkrantė, where there’s a breathtaking panorama of thousands of nests amid pine trees.

There are bicycles for hire on almost every street corner in Nida; some allow you to leave your bike in Smiltynė and bus back to Nida.

The Nida tourist centre or Litinterp in Klaipėda can help arrange accommodation. The cheapest option in Nida is Medikas (52985; Kuverto gatvė 14; dm/r from 30/130Lt), a bare-bones Soviet relic that nonetheless gets the job done.